Short takes: Lync/Skype and browsers; Bitlocker without TPM; OS X Finder preferences; and MyFitnessPal streaks

A few more short mini-posts from the items that have been cluttering my browser tabs this week…

Lync/Skype for Business meetings start in the Web App

A few days ago, a colleague highlighted to me that, whenever she joined a Lync meeting from our company, it opened in Lync Web App, rather than using the full client. Yesterday I noticed the same – I tried to join a call hosted by Microsoft and the Skype for Business Web App launched, rather that the Lync client installed on my PC. It turns out that this behaviour is driven by the default browser: mine is Chrome and my colleague was also using something that’s not IE. Quite why I’d not seen this before, I don’t know (unless it’s related to a recent update) but for internal Lync meetings I do tend to use the Join Online button in the meeting reminder – that doesn’t seem to appear for external meetings. Of course, you can also control which client is used by editing the URL

Using Bitlocker on drives without TPM

When my wife asked me to encrypt the hard drive on her PC, I was pleased to be able to say “no need to buy anything, we can use Bitlocker – it’s built into Windows”. Unfortunately, when I tried to enable it, I found that her PC doesn’t have a trusted platform module (TPM) chip. I was pretty sure I’d worked around that in the past, with a netbook that I used to run Windows 7 on and, sure enough, found a How To Geek article on How To Use BitLocker on Drives without TPM. It’s been a while since I had to dive into the Local Computer Policy but a simple tweak to the “Require additional authentication at startup” item under Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Bit Locker Drive Encryption\Operating System Drives was all it took to let Windows encrypt the drive.

Finding my files in Finder

One of the challenges I have with the Mac I bought a few months ago, is that modern versions of OS X seem to want to hide things from me. I’m a “browse the hard drive to find my files” kind of guy, and it took a tweak to the Finder preferences to show my Hard Disk and bring back the shortcut to Pictures.

MyFitnessPal streak ends – counter reset

Last weekend some connectivity issues, combined with staying away with friends meant I missed the cut-off for logging my food/exercise with MyFitnessPal and my “streak” was reset (i.e. the login counter). Knowing that I’ve been logging activity for a certain number of days is a surprisingly motivational piece of information but it turns out you can get it reset using the counter reset tool (which even predicted how many days the value should be – 81 in my case).

Office Remote for Windows Phone

Over the next couple of days, I’ll be attending a “presentation masterclass”.  My last formal training in this area was twenty years ago, as a graduate trainee at ICL, so I’m hoping things will have moved on considerably since then in terms of the techniques and advice on offer!

Anyway, attending the course reminded me to blog about something I was introduced to last year by my colleague, Warren Jenkins.  Those of us with Windows or Android phones can use the Office Remote app to control PowerPoint – no need for a “clicker” – just a phone (running Windows Phone 8.x with the Office Remote app – or  Android 4.0.3 or later with the Office Remote for Android app) and a Bluetooth connection to a Windows PC (Windows 7 or 8.x), with the Office Remote PC plug-in for Office 2013.

Once Office Remote PC is installed, and the PC is connected to the phone, open the Office file that you would like to present and, on the Office Remote tab, select Office Remote > Turn On.

Then, go to the phone and make sure it’s running the Office Remote app and, if all is working well, you’ll see a list of open Office files and you can pick the one to present.  For example, in PowerPoint you can see speaker notes and control the presentation, with options to view in slide sorter mode or to use a virtual laser pointer to highlight points on the slide. You can also control other Office applications (e.g. interacting with data and switching between worksheets in Excel, or jumping around between headings or up/down a document in Word), but I’ve only used it in anger with PowerPoint.

More details are available on the online help page.

Adding a pause when dialling a number from a softphone or mobile phone

Back in the days when Nokia phones had monochrome screens and batteries lasted for days, a colleague explained to me how to include a p in a number to make the phone pause before dialling the next few digits – for example when entering a PIN for voicemail (I think w also worked for a wait). More recently, another colleague was asking me how to do this with our CUCILync softphones when dialling into a conference call (as described for Microsoft Lync).

Well, it seems the modern equivalent of a p for a soft pause is inserting a comma (at least it is on a Lumiaon an iPhone and on Android) and a semi-colon is a hard pause/wait (on an iPhone). Unfortunately the CUCILync client we use strips out , and ; (and, even worse, it replaces p with 7). I guess it could be an error in the dial-plan but it’s inconvenient…

Amazon AWS Summit highlights (#AWSSummit)

I spent a chunk of time at Amazon’s AWS Summit in London earlier this week. It was interesting to be back at the ExCeL exhibition and convention centre as the last time I was there was another big vendor event – Microsoft Future Decoded – and on the topic of organisation, let’s just say that whilst Amazon had the registration sorted (Microsoft had some issues with that last year), Amazon’s schedule meant we couldn’t get to the technical tracks because of the queues for the escalator (there were no stairs that I could find!).  It seems that ExCeL’s ICC has some logistical challenges when dealing with a few thousand people moving from one level to another!

I was interested to see which partners were exhibiting in the Expo though:

There seem to be plenty of opportunities around cloud services but one set of partners who noticeably absent were the big systems integrators. As we moved to the keynote, I couldn’t tweet the highlights as connectivity became an issue (standard conference issues around WiFi and mobile phone access – plenty of signal but too many sharing it) but I settled into Dr Werner Vogels’ (@Werner) presentation and found it interesting on a number of levels:

  • Whilst there were announcements about Amazon releases, many of the points made were equally applicable to other clouds (e.g. I could apply the same issues and learning to Microsoft Azure):
    • Start-ups have no legacy/dependencies, a low cost structure and can move quickly to disrupt log-standing industries.
    • Not that long ago millions of dollars were required to start an Internet business. It was “indirect funding of the American server industry” – but not any more: cloud infrastructure and platform services have a low barrier to entry and no up-front costs or vendor tie-in.
    • The cloud’s not just for start-ups: enterprises can benefit too (although I’d argue that variable costs are a challenge for some finance departments and new features arriving daily are not always a good thing for end users).
    • Automation is key [in IaaS/PaaS]: whether it’s for testing, building, deployment or infrastructure creation.
    • Real-world workloads come in all shapes and sizes – there’s no need to standardise on the lowest common denominator when you can change the services you use to fit. With cloud you can make mistakes (fail fast and move on) that would be expensive using physical servers or even a virtual infrastructure platform.
    • AWS is a platform and an ecosystem – some organisations are creating their own platforms on top of AWS (e.g. Omnifone’s B2B media platform).
    • Invention is continuous, with new services, and a movement towards micro-services based on smaller blocks (Dr Vogels used a Tetris analogy), containerisation, event-driven computing, etc.
    • Security is a shared responsibility – Amazon provide the tools (and a workbook for compliance with local laws) and customers need to use them correctly.
    • There may be compliance benefits from the cloud, for example: if you store customer data then you become a data controller – and if you process it on AWS, Amazon becomes a data processor; by signing the AWS data processing agreement organisations comply with EU data processing requirements known as article 29, providing assurances that are not available with on-premises services.
  • The stats involved (and Amazon’s growth) are enormous:
    • 102% year on year increase in data in/out of S3.
    • 93% year on year increase in usage of EC2.
    • Over 1 million active customers (every month – excluding amazon.com) – from start-ups to enterprise, in many vertical markets.
    • Five times the compute capacity of the other 14 providers in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for cloud infrastructure as a service combined. 
    • AWS’ pace of innovation is such that 516 major new features and services were launched in 2014 – almost double the previous year (and that’s a pattern with: 24 in 2008; 48 in 2009; 61 in 2010; 82 in 2011; 159 in 2012; 280 in 2013; 516 in 2014) – it’s actually really hard to keep up (and I’d say the same for Azure too!).
  • Whilst Amazon is leading this sector, they did not come across as arrogant – indeed Dr Vogels highlighted that the Amazon motto of being “the earth’s most customer-centric company” applies to AWS too. Customers are in charge, not providers and, if Amazon’s not providing what they need, customers will walk away – perhaps not literally (there’s no lock-in but moving workloads is non-trivial) but they will use another cloud for their next project/programme.

One message that I found difficult to swallow was that “hybrid IT is part of the journey, not the destination“. Maybe that’s true in the long term but, in my world of Microsoft cloud services, I see real use cases for hybrid clouds (I’ll be writing more on that soon).

Maybe it’s because I’m coming from a SaaS angle though, rather than IaaS and PaaS – I did attend a hybrid cloud deep dive session at the AWS Summit but missed the first 10 minutes as I was delayed by the need for micro-escalator-services or the “escalator of things” (credit to Vitor Domingos @VD for that thought).

I can see why, when running your own applications, there is little need for long term usage of on-premises infrastructure or so-called “private cloud” platforms once you’ve taken advantages of the efficiencies that cloud IaaS/PaaS provides. So, creating a hybrid cloud may be a bridge to the future state, rather than a two-way street; but maybe there are limitations about the data that you want to store in the cloud? Perhaps the cloud BC and DR is still too risky (although maybe you could consider multiple clouds)? Or connectivity challenges might exist that rule out exclusive cloud usage? Or perhaps I’m just a Luddite!

One thing’s for sure – applications shouldn’t be moved to the cloud “as is” – cloud migration is an opportunity to rethink how things work – and Amazon has an AWS Cloud Adoption Framework that might help with that.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the whole day – there were many more technical tracks I wanted to attend (and huge queues to get into the sessions) but I had an appointment elsewhere. The AWS Summit was certainly a worthwhile investment of my time though (even as a Microsoft consultant) – I’ll be watching out for it again next year.

In conclusion, I’ll make just the one observation: systems integrators need to find new opportunities to deliver value in an increasingly agile and commoditised world – for example as cloud integrators – and they need to move quickly. Incidentally, this is not news – but for a while now we’ve been able to say “cloud is not for everyone”. Increasingly though, those barriers to cloud adoption are being broken down.

Further reading

Lync becomes Skype for Business today – a quick round-up of what that means

There’s been a fair amount of panic in some quarters as a colleague heard that one of the “patch Tuesday” updates will update our Lync 2013 clients to Skype for Business (which became generally available today). That brings a new user experience and potentially confusion for our users (who are only just getting their heads around switching from OCS and WebEx!). Later on it seemed that the update only applied to Click-to-Run Office ProPlus subscriptions (we have perpetually-licensed MSI-based installations) and finally we got something that I could use to set my colleagues’ minds at rest in a blog post from Scott Stubberfield:

  1. “Patch Tuesday” implies security updates but the Skype for Business update is part of the April monthly update for Office 2013 (i.e. an optional update).
  2. Quoting Scott’s post, “If you are using Lync Online today with Office 365 ProPlus, Office 365 Business Premium or Office 2013, the updated Skype for Business client […] will be the default user experience and replace the Lync user experience.  If you are using Lync Server today, the Lync UI will be the default experience.”. That last sentence is the vital one [although I could have saved a lot of time and effort if I’d seem Martin Boam’s post earlier in the day!].
  3. It is possible to control the user experience (there’s a PowerPoint presentation linked in Scott’s post). We knew that anyway but some of the documentation suggested the registry change needed to be applied in advance of the update. Certainly on my preview client I can switch back and forth at will between the two UIs, using the [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\Lync] key, with a value name EnableSkypeUI, and the data 00 00 00 00. I haven’t got the update yet to test the final release.

Background information

There’s a whole load more information in some really useful posts that Tom Arbuthnot and Matt Landis have put out in the last few days (and an older post from Mark Vale):

More Skype for Business information

On the topic of Skype for Business, Microsoft is running some webinars in a two-part series (aimed at users, not techies). There’s also a stack of help topics available online and the following links might be useful:

Also, although it’s a bit late now for Office 365 users, Microsoft did publish some awareness and readiness planning guidance for the Skype for Business client running with Lync Online (which could be re-purposed for on premises updates).

Microsoft News Q1 2015

This post is an edited version of one that originally appeared on my internal blog at Fujitsu.

Louis Lazarus’ Microsoft News Updates

Back in December, I wrote what I intended to be the first of a regular update on what’s going on in the world of Microsoft – a sort of Microsoft news round-up.  Since then, I’ve been alerted to a regular update from Louis Lazarus (an independent technology strategy consultant – @_louislaz) and I’ve been re-posting his updates via Twitter/OneDrive.  The links for recent updates are below (each one covers the previous month):

Directions on Microsoft Enterprise Software Roadmap

As featured in my previous post, Directions on Microsoft is an independent analysis service focused on Microsoft technologies, roadmaps and licensing policies and their latest quarterly roadmap calls attention to recent roadmap shifts for Microsoft enterprise technologies, including:

  • “Windows 10 and Office 2016 for PCs. Previews have appeared for the next versions of Windows and the Office desktop suite, giving organizations an early opportunity to identify potential migration blockers for software currently running on their Windows 7 PCs.
  • Windows Server. The next version of Windows Server has been postponed to 2016, which means Microsoft’s latest PC security and management infrastructure will not be ready when Windows 10 and Office 2016 ship later this year.
  • Mobile e-mail clients. An acquisition has fundamentally changed its mobile e-mail client roadmap for iOS and Android, and could trigger changes to bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies in organizations.
  • Windows 10 tablets and phones with Office. Windows 10 previews are available for tablets and phones, and Office mobile app previews have appeared for Windows 10. Organizations can use the previews to re-evaluate the future of their Windows mobile device applications.”

[the bullets above are a direct quote from the email I received from Directions on Microsoft]

Access to the report requires a subscription (which I don’t have) but even the snippets above provide a useful overview.

Tuning iOS 8 location services to improve battery life

I’m not convinced my second hand iPhone 5S is as “grade A” condition as it might have appeared when I bought it recently from SmartfoneStore as, as well as having a dull patch on the top of the screen (that I was ignoring), last night, with 26% battery remaining it suddenly decided to turn off and insisted it needed charging. A few minutes later it could be started again, before once again deciding that 26% battery was not enough! Hey ho, I’ll be contacting them after this holiday weekend for a replacement (and they do offer a 60 day warranty) so it shouldn’t be a problem but it did get me looking at why my iOS 8 battery life is so poor.

The first clue was the GPS icon at the top of the screen. Even with all applications closed, it persisted – so what was using my GPS?  I found the problem app, following a LifeHacker article to see which app had a purple arrow in Location Services but a bit more googling turned up a great article on iGeeksBlog looking at how to fix always-on location services in iOS 8.

You can read the post yourself but, in summary, it goes through switching off system services that might use the GPS like location-based iAds, Spotlight Suggestions, Diagnostics & Usage, and Popular Near Me; as well as controlling which apps can use Location Services (my problem app was Dropbox – I’m not sure why it needs to know where I am but it’s not allowed to any more).

Hopefully now my iOS 8 battery life will improve – although I really must get my phone swapped too…

Reasons I no longer need to jailbreak my iPhone; and phantom App Store notifications from a shared Apple ID

My home office is a tip. There’s certainly no clear desk policy around here… although I really do like the idea of working in a clear space and I am trying to take advantage of a rare dip in my workload to clear it up.  Consequently there are a few posts that might appear over the coming days/months based on scraps of paper with half-written notes that I’m now trying to decipher and get onto the blog…

This post will concentrate on some of the various iOS-related snippets.

I recently bought myself a second-hand iPhone 5S (about half the price of an iPhone 6) to replace my 4S that took a bath in the washing up a year or so back. After some time in a bag of rice in the airing cupboard, the 4S soldiered on but it’s been showing some signs of damage (the speakers might or might not work, ditto the headphone socket) and was constantly full (it’s only a 16GB model) so in need of an upgrade.

Moving to the 5S means I’ve also upgraded to iOS 8, after a long time with the 4S on 7.0.4 because that was the version I applied a jailbreak to (and therefore where I was stuck).  Looking back, the reasons I jailbroke that phone seem to have gone away but basically it was to:

  • Change the operator logo with Fake Carrier. I use giffgaff but unfortunately the carrier list is set within iOS and my iPhone would only show the network name as O2 (giffgaff is an O2 MVNO). With Fake Carrier I could set the carrier name to show as giffgaff – although since iOS 7.1.1 that is enabled natively.
  • Enable tethering with TetherMe. Although iOS 7 includes a Personal Hotspot, it wouldn’t work on giffgaff… until I tethered.  Again, that issue has since been fixed (from iOS 7.1.1).

So, I no longer need to jailbreak my phone – that’s a result – but there is still one particularly annoying issue with iOS: despite all of my apps being up-to-date, the App Store icon insists that I have 50-odd updates to apply.  It appears that this is because there are different versions of apps in the App Store for different iOS versions.  My iPad, which is forever stuck on iOS 6 because of Apple’s built-in obsolescence (they decreed there would be no more updates for the first generation iPad when it was just 2 years old) and my wife’s iPhone are effectively creating this problem because all of my devices are using the same Apple ID.  In future, I hope to be able to use Family Sharing but that needs iOS 8 or later.  Updating all the apps on my iOS 8 device seems to have fixed things for now…

One last tweak: if you suffer from a poor signal, try field test mode (on iOS or Android) to see just how strong it is in dB.  Unfortunately I haven’t found a Windows Phone equivalent to see just how bad the EE network (or “nothing nowhere” as I tend to refer to it) is that we use at work…

Connecting two Bluetooth devices at once to a Volkswagen Tiguan

Tomorrow, the leased Volkswagen Tiguan (2012 model) that I’ve been driving for the last three years is being collected. Only last week, I worked out how to do what I’ve wanted to do for most of the time I’ve had the car – i.e. to have one phone connected over Bluetooth for calls (my work phone) at the same time as another is connected for playing music/podcasts (my private phone).

As long as both devices are paired to the car, it’s pretty simple and the steps are in the video below:

 

If you can’t see the video, then these are the steps:

  1. Connect the phone that you want to use as a phone to the car. In the video you can see “Mark Wilson’s Lumia” is connected.
  2. using the steering wheel controls, scroll down to Bluetooth and click OK.
  3. Scroll down to Media player and click OK.
  4. Select Paired devices and click OK.
  5. Select the second device (in the video it’s “Mark’s iPhone) and click OK.
  6. Click OK at the Connect prompt, and again at the “End current connection?” prompt.
  7. After a few seconds, the second device should connect and you can play media content from this, whilst still making/receiving calls on the first device.

Plantronics Voyager Legend not connecting with PC (but fine with phones) – re-pairing required

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a couple of Lync accessories I use every day – including my Plantronics Voyager Legend (BT300M). Since then, I’ve successfully paired the headset with both Windows and iOS phones (so presumably Android will work too) using their native stacks, although I use the supplied Bluetooth dongle on my company-supplied Windows 7 laptop.  I’m still impressed with the headset and the battery life is great too as it automatically goes into standby when I forget to turn it off (although it’s often sitting on its charging stand).

Unfortunately, I did find one day that my headset had “fallen out with” my laptop and whilst it would happily connect to the phones I couldn’t use it for Lync (VoIP) or CUCILync (VoIP breakout to our Cisco phone system and beyond to the PSTN). After some frustration of taking out and re-inserting the dongle in various USB ports, etc. I found an article on the Plantronics Sounding Board that gave the answer:

“Try pairing the headset to the dongle. Typically you would turn your phone(s) off to make sure they don’t  interfere in the process. Then press the call button on the headset until you go into pairing mode and insert the dongle in the PC, it should pair.”

Interestingly, the article also referred to a tool I’ve not come across before called DriveCleanup which can remove orphaned registry items related to non-present USB devices (forcing the dongle to set up the stack again on insertion). I didn’t need this but it could be a useful tool (there are several others on the page too).

Incidentally, at a Lync event at Microsoft last week, I tried out the Plantronics Backbeat PRO wireless noise cancelling headphones with microphone and they will be great for listening to music in a shared office but still being contactable for calls. Having upgraded my phone this week, I need to do some saving before I can buy more gadgets, but these could be on the list…

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